China Leads in Education

Sam Dillon writes in The New York Times about the rather astounding news on the education accomplishments of China. While education excellence is not uniform across the country, in some of China’s major population centers, education achievement is far outstripping the rest of the world.

It seems that a key element in this achievement is simply asking the children to work harder.

Here is some of what Dillon wrote:

In math, the Shanghai students performed in a class by themselves, outperforming second-place Singapore, which has been seen as an educational superstar in recent years. The average math scores of American students put them below 30 other countries.

In reading, Shanghai students scored 556, ahead of second-place Korea with 539. The United States scored 500 and came in 17th, putting it on par with students in The Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and several other countries.

In science, Shanghai students scored 575. In second place was Finland, where the average score was 554. The United States scored 502 – in 23rd place – with a performance indistinguishable from Poland, Ireland, Norway, France and several other countries.

PISA scores are on a scale, with 500 as the average. Two-thirds of students in participating countries score between 400 and 600. On the math test last year, students in Shanghai scored 600, in Singapore 562, in Germany 513, and in the United States 487.

The first reaction is to wonder if the Chinese are gaming the system. That does not seem likely.

The testing in Shanghai was carried out by an international contractor, working with Chinese authorities, and overseen by the Australian Council for Educational Research, a nonprofit testing group, said Andreas Schleicher, who directs the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s international educational testing program.

Mark Schneider, a commissioner of the Department of Education’s research arm in the George W. Bush administration, who returned from an educational research visit to China on Friday, said he had been skeptical about some PISA results in the past. But Mr. Schneider said he considered the accuracy of these results to be unassailable.

Dillon refers to the government reaction in the U.S.:

“We have to see this as a wake-up call,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in an interview on Monday.

“I know skeptics will want to argue with the results, but we consider them to be accurate and reliable, and we have to see them as a challenge to get better,” he added. “The United States came in 23rd or 24th in most subjects. We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated.”

As has been noted elsewhere, some of our employment problems are related to inadequate education. See stories here and here. And we are slipping deeper into the pit of mediocrity. As The Washington Post summarized today, in an article by Nick Anderson:

U.S. officials said the results show that the nation is slipping further behind its competitors despite years spent seeking to raise performance in reading and math through the 2002 No Child Left Behind law and a host of other reforms.

Maybe we need simply to ask more of our children.

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